The Rhythm & Blues Scene

60's ModRobert Nicholls is one of the originals, a true face of the London Mod scene. Although he left Britain in the early '70s he has never forgotten his time as a London Mod in the 60's and wishes to share those memories with other aged Mods (like himself) or younger people who find Mod styles interesting. In previous articles he has been writing about different aspects of the mod scene (the first part of his story can be found here) however, in this article he concentrates on the rhythm & Blues scene in 60's London and the bands and events he witnessed.


R&B Clubs and Musicians in London’s West End:Flamingo Club
Studio 51 at Great Newport St, and the Scene at Great Windmill Street, were our main haunts in the West End, but we also went to the Flamingo Club, the 100 Club, and the Marquee, which featured live R&B bands in the early-mid 1960s. The same bands tended to rotate through these venues and play at clubs further afield such as Klooks Kleek in West Hampstead, Club Noreik in Manor House, Ricky Tick in Windsor, Crawdaddy in Richmond, and Eel Pie Island in Twickenham. Familiar home-grown R&B artists included John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band, Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds, the Graham Bond Organization, the Yardbirds, and various bands led by Long John Baldry and Rod Stewart.

John Mayall: In 1963 John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers played West End clubs such as Studio 51 and the Marquee. Mayall’s band provided the genesis of the careers of many fine musicians, including Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, and Mick Taylor. To witness, for example, an Eric Clapton or Peter Green guitar solo was always a worthwhile experience, but John Mayall was an intellectual and not a dancer and his music, although technically competent, didn’t move the body. Blues has always been a dance music, even early acoustic compositions. Mayall’s music might have fascinated blues buffs and jazz fans, but it didn’t attract us as Mods. Moreover, his straggly beard and bohemian look further turned the Mods off. Although in my clubbing I saw Mayall’s Bluesbreakers often enough, I didn’t go out of my way to catch Mayall’s sets.

The Animals: Before they had released any record, the Animals performed a lot at The Scene. They were being promoted at the club because Scene members were the most discriminating. The Animals played good music, versions of R&B standards which Eric Burdon’s forceful voice handled well. The “Sceneman” remembers that club “had small stage with a smallish grand piano which Eric Burdon used to leap up and down on” (modculture.co.uk). He states, “A very lively young spotted teenager was Eric,” which gives a clue to the Animals lack of fashion style. It is not a criticism, but Alan Price’s organ was no Hammond and didn’t have that heavy sound. It was small and portable and had a thin but attractive sound. It was heard to good effect on their demo tape that was often played at the Scene. The tracks included versions of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom,” Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man,” Muddy Water’s “I Just Wanna Make Love To You,” and a version of Timmy Shaw’s “I’m Gonna Send You Back to Georgia (City Slick)” which they rendered as “I’m Gonna Send You Back to Walker,” the boys hailing from Newcastle. These demo tracks were great, and in my opinion much better than anything they subsequently put out as singles. Later the Animals became a headline act at The Flamingo Club.

Georgie Fame: With a musical style influenced by jazz pianist/singer Mose Allison, and with an understated vocal style like Allison, Georgie Fame was well-respected. With the full band sound of the Blue Flames, bongo drums, and his distinct jazz and bluebeat leanings he found favour with Mods, as well as Black GIs, and West Indian youth. The Hammond organ he played was familiar to us from records by American greats Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, and Jack McDuff, and one of his signature songs, “Let the Good Times Roll” expressed the Mod philosophy. Although Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames played at The Scene, Klooks Kleek, the Ricky Tick in Windsor, as well as at American military bases, I only ever remember seeing him live at The Flamingo Club where he performed regularly between 1962 and 1965. The Flamingo was in a large dimly lit cellar below “The Whisky a-Go-Go” club on Wardour Street in Soho. It was usually full because Georgie Fame’s allnighter sessions, closing at 6:00 am, attracted an enthusiastic crowd of night owls, both black and white.

Zoot Money and Graham Bond: During 1964, Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band started playing at the Flamingo, and with his Hammond organ and full band sound his appeal was similar to Georgie Fame’s. He also played in outlying clubs such as thRobert Nichollse Zambezi in Hounslow and the Crawdaddy in Richmond. The Graham Bond Organization played in a similar style, with Bond featured on the Hammond organ, and his band did the rounds playing at the 100 Club, the Marquee, and elsewhere. Like John Mayall’s group his band provided a spawning ground for top musicians. During 1965, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker played in Bond's band. Both later found fame with Eric Clapton in the Cream. Later, in the early 1970s I socialized a little with Graham Bond and his wife, black singer Dianne Stewart, for example in 1971 they attended a party I held at my flat at Berens Rd, Kensal Green, London. I left Britain in 1973, and I was astonished to recently find out that the pair had subsequently divorced and Bond died in 1974 under the wheels of a train at Finsbury Park Station and his death is widely believed to be suicide.
(Rob as an art student in 1968)

The Yardbirds: Unlike the Yardbirdsaforementioned bands that had large sounds, the Yardbirds didn’t have keyboards or saxophones but, like the Rolling Stones they were a five member band featuring bass, rhythm, and lead guitars, a drum set, and Keith Relf on lead vocals and harmonica. As the Stones grew in popularity and moved on, the Yardbirds replaced them at the Crawdaddy. I don’t associate the Yardbirds with Soho clubs so much, but they did play at the Marquee and other London venues. They went through several changes in the band’s line-up and at various times included the best R&B guitarists in Britain, namely Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. Unlike other groups who paid their dues over the years playing clubs around the country, my feeling was that the Yardbirds were being groomed for stardom on a par with the Stones from the very start. They had innumerable photo ops and their promotional materials were widely circulated. Accordingly they were quite a stylish when they started out, as early Mods, wearing high shirt collars, roll-neck sweaters and sometimes Pierre Cardin style or Mao type jackets. In May 1964, the Yardbirds released the Billy Boy Arnold song "I Wish You Would" which gave them a degree of national fame. They also released Billy Boy Arnold’s "I Ain’t Got You."

Rod Stewart: Rod “The Mod” Stewart was a North Londoner anRod the Modd attended the William Grimshaw secondary modern school in Highgate, where he failed the 11-plus examination. Despite this initial setback (he was a grave digger in Highgate cemetery for a while) Rod was blessed with a black sounding voice at a time when this was rare for white singers and it was considered an asset. Rod even has a husky rasping edge to his voice like many American soul singers. In 1963 he played harmonica with Jimmy Powell and the Five Dimensions and shared lead vocals with Jimmy Powell. We saw them at Studio 51 on Sunday afternoons when the Stones could not appear. At that time Rod Stewart had the voice, the hairstyle, and the Mod look, but the group were not tight and seemed to lack musical discipline, and we were disappointed because they seemed like an inadequate stand-in for the Stones. Rod Stewart left the Five Dimensions in January 1964 and teamed up with Long John Baldry and the Hoochie Coochie Men. Rod was not a “celebrity” for the early part of his career and I can testify he paid his dues. He would hang out with the rest of us blokes at the Witches Cauldron club/restaurant in Hampstead and at the upscale Cromwellian Club in Knightsbridge, which had gambling on the upper levels and a dance floor in the basement. In 1966, I vied with him for girls on an equal basis on the Cromwellian’s dance floor.

Long John Baldry: At 6ft 7ins, Long John Baldry was unmistakable and a regular in the clubs. He was a showman and would sometimes just turn up and sing some numbers with whatever band was playing. In the early sixties he sang with Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated, and with him recorded the first British blues album, “R&B at the Marquee” (1962). In 1963, Baldry joined the Cyril Davies R&B All Stars with Jimmy Page on guitar. After Davies’ death in 1964 he took over and the band became Long John Baldry and his Hoochie Coochie Men featuring Rod Stewart on vocals. In 1965, the Hoochie Coochie Men became the Steampacket with Baldry and Stewart as male vocalists, Julie Driscoll as the female vocalist and Brian Auger on the Hammond organ. The Steampacket broke up in late 1966.

Chris Farlowe: Like Rod Stewart and Stevie Winwood, Chris Farlowe had a black-sounding voice that gained him notoriety. Born in Islington, North London, the London Mods accepted him as a local lad and were almost prepared to overlook his weak fashion sense, although he tried to dress smartly. He performed regularly in London clubs such as the Flamingo, the Scene, Klooks Kleek, as well as at the Zambezi in Hounslow. I didn’t find his performances exciting. In my estimation he had a good voice but didn’t have the soul to go with it, therefore, I didn’t go out of my way to catch his shows or pay him much attention when I did.

The Who: With a nod in direction of Georgie Fame and Long John Baldry, none of the previously mentioned performers, with the exception of Rod Stewart, were true Mods. The Small Faces were hailed as Mods and they undoubtedly were, but they emerged towards the end of the Mod era, and I never saw them. For me The Who were the seminal Mod Group, and of the group Pete Townshend with his long face, big nose and cool hair was the most Mod looking and photogenic, and as a result he tended to be featured in photos more. He was a true believer and remembers The Scene Club: “The Scene was really where it was at, but there were only about fifteen people down there every night. It was a focal point for the mod movement. I don’t think anyone who was a mod outside Soho realised the fashions and dances all began there” (courtesy Dave Edwards and Scene 64; Fifteen may be an underestimate. There could be two or three dozen and sometimes it got quite crowded, but Monday evenings were quite informal, people were coming and going, so that any one time it would be relatively empty). Keith Moon with his round face and fringe also had a Mod look and he was chirpy like the proverbial Cockney sparrow. In the spring of 1964, under the management of Peter Meaden they changed their name to The High Numbers and issued a single “I’m the Face” which I dutifully bought but didn’t enjoy much, preferring Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It,” from which it was copied. Meaden was soon bought out by a new management team of Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp and the group reacquired the name of The Who. Henceforth they played regularly up to three or four times a week and by August 1964 had a series of Wednesday night gigs at The Scene. They also played at the 100 Club and the Marquee in the West End and other places around London including the Goldhawk in Shepherd’s Bush, St. Joseph’s Church Hall in Archway, and Wolsey Hall in Cheshunt. I never saw them perform “I’m the Face” and they didn’t release their first single as The Who, “I Can’t Explain,” until 1965. Without a single to promote, their shows normally consisted of R&B standards such as Martha & the Vandellas’ “Heatwave” and Bo Diddley’s “Road Runner which, steered by Townshend’s tempestuous guitar style, would soon dissolve into an electronic cacophony. Although this noise was unfamiliar to us Mods, they performed with such enthusiasm they won us over. As a rule we preferred tight rhythmic numbers and were not very used to listening to such loose improvisation, but there were precedents. Although token old-school, John Lee Hooker played an electric guitar and was prolific in recording, and in some of his early numbers he pushed the electric blues guitar to extremes. There was a Hooker instrumental, I believe it was called “The Chimes” which, urged on by a relentless foot-tapping beat, explored the outer-reaches of blues tonality and dissonance. Townshend’s guitar solos possessed this quality. Some people also point to Rock ‘n’ Roll guitarist, Link Ray as a formative influence. He is credited with inventing power chord guitar playing. His first big recording hit was the 1958 instrumental “Rumble,” and we’re told that when he went to record it he wasn’t happy with the sound on the amp, so he pierced holes in the speaker cone to create extra distortion. On his guitar tracks Ray produced a regular farmyard of honking sounds from his guitar. He is said to have inspired Neil Young and John Lennon as well as Pete Townshend. As with the Stones, I continued to go to The Who’s shows until they became too popular to perform in small clubs. The last time I saw them was mid-1965 at the Marquee and it was very crowded, but Peter Townshend and Roger Daltry recognized me and Mel U as Faces from the small club days and had the good grace to come into the audience and chat with us for a little while during the interval. After The Who had established themselves with some hit records their performance became even more forceful and, urged on by their promoters, their act sometimes included Pete Townshend smashing his guitar into the speakers and Keith Moon knocking over his drums. The pundits argued that The Who's violence on stage embodied the aggression inherent in the Mod subculture, which sounds like nonsense to me. But I didn’t appreciate such destruction anyway and found it disrespectful; disrespectful of many audience members who would have loved to own a quality guitar, but couldn’t afford it, and disrespectful of the craftsmanship that went into building the instrument.

Jimmy James and Geno WashiGenongton: There were some black bands that impacted London from the mid-sixties on, primarily Jimmy James and the Vagabonds and Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band. Jimmy James arrived in the UK from Jamaica in 1964 and with his band the Vagabonds quickly became popular in London clubs performing at Klooks Kleek and other places. They supported The Who at the Marquee in 1965 and headlined there for about a year afterwards. They were adopted by Mods and were managed by The Who’s former manager Peter Meaden. Their most successful record at that time was a pulsating reggae-tinged version of Neil Diamond’s “Red, Red Wine.” Geno Washington was an American who had a full band complete with a brass section. He has been compared to soul shouter Wilson Pickett. He was born in Indiana but during the early 1960s was stationed with the US Air Force in East Anglia where he was as a frequent stand-in at clubs around London. After his release from the military he formed the Ram Jam Band which became known for dynamic renditions of up-tempo soul numbers. The band was popular among the Mods and from 1966-1967 his records sold well especially his live albums. Later he performed at Sheffield's Mojo Club and was all the rage with Northern Soul fans.

(The Rhythm & Blues article continues here)

This work is the copyright of Robert Nicholls, Ph.D. The views expressed are purely those of the author and are not attributable to any other person or institution.

I know Rob would love to hear any feedback on this article. You can discuss it with him in the forum here or I will pass on any messages to him using the contact address.

Rob is also interested in publishing his memoirs and would like to hear from anyone with any advice or with an interest in publishing them.